What is PRP and why do athletes sing its praises so much?
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In this article:
- What Is PRP?
- How Does PRP Work?
- Why Is PRP so Popular?
- Who Benefits from PRP?
- How Are PRP Injections Performed?
- When Can You Recover from PRP Injections?
- How Much Are PRP Treatments?
What Is PRP and How Can It Help Your Body?
What Is PRP?
PRP is short for platelet-rich plasma. It is plasma that contains more than the usual amount of platelets typical in blood.
Platelets have the ability of healing wounds by clotting up the blood. They have several proteins called growth factors which play a crucial role in healing injuries.
The concentration of platelets in PRP can be up to 5-10 times more concentrated, which means there is a greater concentration of growth factors that are believed to hasten cell growth.
How Does PRP Work?
The premise of PRP is that it promotes healing upon injection into the site of a wound or injury. Injecting the PRP into injured tissue will stimulate it to produce newer and healthier cells, and promote faster healing.
What researchers have done is to isolate plasma from the blood and increase its concentration by a centrifugation process. The concentrated platelets are then combined with remaining blood cells.
An example of PRP at work is in the treatment of Achilles tendonitis, in which the heel cord becomes inflamed and painfully swollen. A mix of local anesthetic and PRP is injected into the inflamed tissue, resulting in the reduction of swelling after a couple of weeks.
Why Is PRP so Popular?
PRP is popular among people who like the idea of speedier healing, especially among those whose livelihoods depend on not having any physical injuries, like athletes. It is also helpful for people who are prone to getting chronic injuries.
Here are some of the injuries and conditions that PRP shots reportedly treat:
- Chronic Tendon Injuries – Many doctors already use PRP shots to treat tendon problems like jumper’s knee, tennis elbow, and patellar tendon pain.
- Hair Loss – Research from 2014 sees PRP injections as effective in the treatment in androgenic alopecia, whose more common term is male pattern baldness.
- Post-Surgical Repair – Doctors sometimes use PRP injections to heal torn tendons and/or ligaments
- Acute Injuries – Pulled hamstrings, knee and ankle sprains, and other muscle injuries are often dealt with using PRP injections.
- Osteoarthritis – A study in 2015 concludes that PRP injections are more effective than hyaluronic acid injections in the treatment of osteoarthritis.
Who Benefits from PRP?
Famous athletes such as golf legend Tiger Woods and tennis star Rafael Nadal are among several household name athletes who use PRP shots to heal faster from injuries to get back to peak playing form as soon as possible.
Patients who suffer from nerve and muscle pain can also benefit from PRP treatments, especially those whose bodies have stopped responding to their usual medication or have suddenly grown immune from their treatments.
Sometimes the human body will refuse to resolve an injury as it has stopped recognizing that injury as something it needs to repair. This is very common in chronic injuries such as tendonosis or chronic back pain.
PRP treatment may be the best solution for these injuries, as it promotes natural “irritants” that stimulate growth factors and healing. It causes a mild inflammation on the site of the injury on purpose, which alerts the body to the healing that needs to take place there.
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How Are PRP Injections Performed?
First, you will have to consult your primary care physician or cardiologist to find out if you are taking medications that may interfere with treatment.
Medications like Alleve, Motrin, Advil, Naproxen, and Aspirin, for example, can interfere with platelet function and affect your body’s response to the injection. It’s best to take yourself off anti-inflammatory medications for up to 1 week prior to your injections, and 2 weeks after.
A platelet-rich plasma injection is an in-office procedure that can take 30 minutes. Your doctor will take a blood sample from your arm then place that into a canister in a centrifuge machine.
The machine will then proceed to separate the blood into different layers. One of the layers that form is the one with the platelets within it.
The doctor then separates the layer with the platelets, which he then injects into the affected ligament, joint, or tendon. Depending on the area, an ultrasound machine may be necessary to properly guide the needle.
When Can You Recover from PRP Injections?
Patients tend to go through 2-3 days of soreness after a few injections, while those who have soft tissue injuries can expect a mild pain for a few more days. Prescription medication to manage the pain is often unnecessary, as a simple analgesic can be enough to do the trick.
Complete relief from the pain happens around 3-4 weeks after the injection, even as soon as two weeks for some cases. Symptoms of the injury will continue to improve over the following 3-6 months following a PRP injection.
The time frame of recovery usually varies depending on the type of injury. For example, osteoarthritis responds faster to the treatment, while tendon pain takes a little longer to recover.
Since PRP treatments are autologous, you are unlikely to develop infections or allergies. But you can get an infection from the injection itself, which is something you should discuss with your doctor.
What Is Autologous? Cells or tissue taken from the same individual. PRP injections are autologous because they come from your own body.
How Much Are PRP Treatments?
Sadly, very few insurance plans cover PRP injection reimbursements because many still consider it to be an experimental treatment. Costs depend on your location and the purpose of your injections.
In San Francisco, PRP treatments for hair loss cost around $900 for one session and $2,500 for a three-treatment set. Meanwhile, in Washington, knee injections of PRP can go for $500-$1,200 per session.
Learn more about how platelet-rich plasma treatments work in this video from LivingHealthyChicago:
PRP treatments certainly hold a lot of promise, but current research seems to be a little lacking and need more comprehensive scientific support. Though the success of PRP shots is still considered largely anecdotal or experimental, its risks are very minimal.
When considering PRP treatment, always be sure to consult with your primary healthcare provider as well as with your health insurance carrier. Some insurance plans may be open to provide even partial reimbursement.
It is also important for adults to consume a healthy mix of daily vitamins. We recommend this Vitamin D3 supplement.
Have you tried out PRP treatments yourself? Let us know how it went in the comments section below!